Digital recordings of historic events in danger

  • By Brett Zongker Associated Press
  • Monday, October 18, 2010 8:31pm
  • Life

WASHINGTON — New digital recordings of events in U.S. history and early radio shows are at risk of being lost much faster than older ones on tape and many are already gone, according to a study on sound released earlier this month.

Even recent history — such as recordings from 9/11 or the 2008 election — is at risk because digital sound files can be corrupted and widely used CD-R discs last just three to five years before files start to fade, study co-author Sam Brylawski said.

“I think we’re assuming that if it’s on the Web it’s going to be there forever,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges.”

The first comprehensive study of the preservation of sound recordings in the U.S. being released by the Library of Congress also found many historical recordings already have been lost or can’t be accessed by the public.

That includes most of radio’s first decade from 1925 to 1935.

Shows by singers Duke Ellington and Bing Crosby, as well as the earliest sports broadcasts, are already gone.

Digital files are a blessing and a curse. Sounds can be easily recorded and transferred and the files require less and less space. But the problem, Brylawski said, is they must be constantly maintained and backed up by audio experts as technology changes. That requires active preservation, rather than simply placing files on a shelf, he said.

The old analog formats that remain are more physically stable and can survive about 150 years longer than digital recordings, the study warns. But the rapid change in technology to play back the recordings can make them obsolete.

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